Final exercises, University of Virginia
At the University of Virginia, 86% of freshman graduation in four years. Dan Addison—U.Va. Public Affairs

The 25 Public Colleges Where Students Graduate The Fastest

Mar 23, 2015

One casualty of the ongoing budget problems and overcrowding at public colleges is speed. The average time public college students take to earn what used to be called a “four-year degree” is currently about 4.6 years.

In fact, only one third of public college students earn their bachelor’s degree in four years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And that means the average in-state public college student is paying for an additional semester of tuition, room, board, and books—which is currently running about $12,000, according to College Board data.

Many private college students need more than four years to graduate as well, but on average, fully 53% of private college students earn their bachelors' degree on time, 20 percentage points higher than the public college rate. (For the private colleges that graduate students the fastest, see our list of the top 50.)

One major cause of students' slower progress at public colleges is underfunding. At some colleges, such as some low-cost California State University campuses, students complain they can't get into the majors or classes they need to complete their degrees. At several CSU campuses, such as San Jose State University, students have almost no chance to finish on time.

But students also slow themselves down, research shows. Generally, schools that accept students with less-than-perfect high school records—such as open access public colleges—tend to have low four-year graduation rates. Many struggling students have to take remedial classes before they can handle college-level work, which adds a semester or two to their degree.

And students who change majors late in their college career may have to take additional requirements, which can force them to spend an extra semester or two at school. (You can read more about the simple strategies to help you graduate on time here.

These 25 public colleges have the best records of graduating students on time. They are ranked by four-year graduation rates in the table below, which also lists Money’s best college values ranking and our estimate of the average cost of a degree for an in-state student, after college scholarships and grants are subtracted.

CollegestateMoney ranking% of freshmen who earn a bachelor's in 4 yearsEstimated average net cost of a degree for the class of 2019
1. University of Virginia-Main CampusVA1686%$96,963
2. College of William and MaryVA6083%$99,106
3. University of North Carolina at Chapel HillNC4081%$86,637
4. University of Michigan-Ann ArborMI2276%$97,359
5. University of California-BerkeleyCA1372%$130,629
6. The College of New JerseyNJ5372%$131,357
7. St Mary's College of MarylandMD31971%$123,480
8. University of California-Los AngelesCA3169%$130,477
9. SUNY at BinghamtonNY16269%$102,165
10. University of California-IrvineCA3268%$126,546
11. University of California-Santa BarbaraCA9568%$135,233
12. University of ConnecticutCT12068%$105,084
13. University of DelawareDE6668%$101,911
14. University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIL7668%$122,217
15. Miami University-OxfordOH14468%$128,987
16. University of Maryland-College ParkMD6866%$102,069
17. SUNY College at GeneseoNY35966%$98,680
18. University of Mary WashingtonVA10766%$101,952
19. University of FloridaFL2865%$89,572
20. Pennsylvania State University-Main CampusPA17765%$147,090
21. James Madison UniversityVA5365%$101,193
22. University of VermontVT30065%$96,549
23. University of New Hampshire-Main CampusNH26164%$121,657
24. University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusPA31964%$133,585
25. Citadel Military College of South CarolinaSC11462%$98,671

Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Money calculations

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